Nevada’s state government includes executive, judicial, and legislative branches. The Governor, his/her staff, and state agencies comprise the executive branch and our judges and justices oversee the judicial branch. These two arms of state government serve full-time, year-round. Legislators and their staff compromise the legislative branch, but they only officially have full power for 120 days in odd-numbered years.
Nevada is also a Dillon’s Rule state, which means that all power and funding flows down from the legislature. So, in Nevada the branch of state government that controls almost everything only exists part-time. This is a growing problem because our modern state has modern issues that must be resolved on a full-time basis. Legislators are therefore both very powerful and very limited in authority. They, therefore, need our help to make them focused representatives of the people and effective lawmakers during the very short legislative sessions.
In odd numbered years, the legislative session runs between February and June, with this year’s session starting on February 6th and ending on June 5th. During these months, submitted bills address both major and minor issues as well as fund budgets that sustain state and local agencies. Our legislature is bicameral, so it has two houses, called the Senate and the Assembly. State Senators serve for four years, while state Assemblypersons serve for two-year terms. This gives the legislature a bit more continuity as state Senators serve for two sessions before going up for re-election.
The leader of the state Senate is called the Majority Leader, while the leader of the Assembly is called the Speaker, and both come from the party with a majority in that house. Both houses of the legislature have almost identical committees and follow the same processes. Each legislator has a set number of bills that are first introduced as bill draft requests, also known as BDRs. A BDR serves as a placeholder the legislature’s attorneys use to manage the bill drafting process.
A bill starts down the road of becoming a law when its summary is read on the floor of the house where the bill’s sponsor serves and then each bill is assigned to a committee. The committee chairs have the power to decide which bills receive hearings. If a bill gets a hearing, the sponsor explains the bill and why he/she is proposing it. The public can then provide comments in support, in opposition, or as neutral.
Public comments can be submitted in three ways. Members of the public can provide comments in-person, in writing, or over the phone. If you live near Carson City or fly up to Reno and drive to Carson City, you can speak in the legislature at 401 S. Carson Street, Carson City, NV 89701. If you live in Southern Nevada, you can go to the Grant Sawyer Building at 555 East Washington Ave. 89101. Committee meeting agenda include the specific room numbers for each hearing.
Anyone can provide written comments through the email address provided on the agenda, but it needs to be submitted 24 hours prior to the meeting if you would like your comments to be available online during a bill’s hearing.
And lastly, anyone can call in during public comments. The phone number to call for each meeting as well as the passcodes needed to be able to come off mute to speak are included on the meeting agenda under Public Comment. Community members can call in from any phone and from any place.
All the work completed in each session is managed through the legislature’s website tools. If you Google Nevada Legislature, the website link will pop up at the top of your search. Go to the website and on the upper lefthand side of the page you will see Session Info, click on that menu tab. A box will open that allows you to click on the 82nd (2023) Session. The next page provides links and brief explanations for each legislative website tool.
To follow bills, start by creating a Personalized Legislative Tracking account. Through a free Personalized Legislative Tracking account, you can track up to ten BDRs, bills, or budgets. The tracking software will send you an email when your tracked content is moving through the process.
Once you have a tracking account, a Track button will appear on BDR, bill, and budget pages. Links to these pages are on the Session Info webpage. You can search BDRs and bills through a keyword, such as education, or through the legislative sponsor.
Each bill has a page you can reach by clicking on the bill number, such as AB1 or SB3. A bill’s page includes the full text and the bill’s hearing history. If you would like to contact members of the committee assigned to the bill, you can click on the committee’s name included on the bill’s page.
Every bill assigned to a committee that gets a favorable hearing and floor vote, will then go through the same process, which includes a committee hearing, a committee work session, and then a floor vote, in the second house. You can engage in each step along the way. If a bill makes it through both legislative houses, it goes to the governor who must sign for it to become a law.
If you are interested in more details about the legislative process and civic engagement opportunities, please visit the Vote Nevada Blog. Vote Nevada is a nonpartisan organization that focuses on civics education and engagement. Our motto is: Solving Problems Through Civics. Each one of us must be a check on government.